“XIX” opens up with a distorted bagpipe-sounding keyboard patch, a glockenspiel and an acoustic guitar in the background. Corey Taylor’s vocals come in over the eerie soundscape alongside muted drums quietly keeping the beat and Taylor’s voice just sounds strained in a fed up, pissed off way. “XIX” is interesting because it keeps building on a lot of additional instrumentation, volume increases and layered vocal harmonies seeping into frame. The main scratchy, sickening soundscape remains constant and you can almost feel Taylor glaring at you. It seems like Slipknot is trying to make you feel uneasy and scared with this track.
The song builds and builds, edging toward total paranoia, and finally arrives at… nothing. Everything falls apart and you’re left with the original soundscape in extreme disrepair. It’s you’re expecting something to jump out at you from behind a curtain. You reach toward it and there’s nothing behind it, but you’re pretty sure there’s someone breathing down the back of your neck now.
“Sarcastrophe” picks up where “XIX” left off in terms of mood. There’s light percussion, effected clean guitars and a bubbling static noise. Things pick up with the addition of cymbals and distorted guitars. Then, out of nowhere, a drum fill and you’re thrown into the midst of Corey Taylor growling his fucking face off. The heaviness arrives in the same way the band did heaviness on their debut record- plenty of heft in terms of a traditional metal band, but with more percussion going on and the added madness of DJ electronically adding layers of insanity.
It’s immediately noticeably that this is not the Slipknot you think you’re getting. This is a Slipknot that is righteously pissed off. There’s blasts, there’s tremolo-picked riffs and there’s non-conventional breakdowns that include sampling and keyboard work and aren’t drum centric. There’s a strange, airy quality to the heaviness of this song. It’s not this laser-focused precision that’s cut and dry. It’s haunting, terrifying and larger than life. It’s as if Slipknot were this spectral being here to kill you, but slowly… painfully.
“AOV” is driving in the same way the members of Amon Amarth are just kind of vikings. The combination of double bass and percussive attacks on the downbeats give the song a militaristic stomping quality while guitars simply drive like tanks through your speakers and keyboards sound the air raid sirens as if it were the end of days. There’s a big hooky chorus that pops up between the bursts of violence that’s going to get stuck in your head, and that’s just the first half of the song. What surprised me was the interlude toward the middle of the track.
During the interlude, the majority of the band fades off and featured prominently, providing the melody aside from a tinkling piano and dreamy, swirling guitars, is the bassist. I’d go as far as calling this a bass solo. It’s melodious and has a sense of direction in that it touches on what the guitars are doing in the background but doesn’t stick to them. With the band still mourning former bassist Paul Gray, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be Slipknot‘s …And Justice For All.
It is not.
4) THE DEVIL IN I
Everyone knows this song already, so I’ll keep it brief. This is straight up classic Slipknot via their Iowa days with a heavy dose of that unsettling heaviness I’ve mentioned. It’s also the slowest song up to this point (barring the introductory track) and I’d even say the least heavy.
Do not underestimate how much heavier this band has gotten.
The intro to “Killpop” brings back that “XIX” phantasm keyboard sound along with plodding drums doubled up by what sounds like an electronic drum kit. The best way to describe “Killpop” is a ballad co-written by Satan himself and someone who is just totally empty inside. It’s cold, it’s slow and it seems to deal with drugs, the issue of addiction and someone taking advantage of them. “Killpop” is interesting because it relies on keyboards and alternative percussion as the main focus the song, barring the blistering guitar solo and blastfest in last forty seconds of the song.
As a quick refresher, Craig “133” Jones is listed as doing media and sampling in the band, Sid Wilson on turntables and Chris Fehn on percussion for the group. The trio has always been a part of the group’s sound and a big part of the live show, but they shine in a huge way here. After listening to the record in full, I can honestly say the three have a big hand in .5: The Grey Chapter terrifying. In fact, they’ve the backbone to two of the five songs we’ve looked at so far!
There’s a lot of references to someone dying and some else being arrested for it in “Skeptic.” I’m near positive this one is directly about Gray’s death. The chorus of the is particularly touching in both inflection as well as lyric, reading-
“The world will never see another crazy person like you.
The world will never know another man as amazing as you.”
“Skeptic” is an interesting song musically. It starts off with the typical Slipknot stomp and then launches into a Soilwork-worthy melodic death metal chorus, even using a pre-chorus section twice in two different formats that gets blindingly fast and uses a lot of chromatic, dissonant tonal work. “Skeptic” opens up the sonic space a lot throughout its runtime to be filled out entirely by (we assume) Jay Weinberg’s drumming, giving the song this very punk rock feel with grindcore sense of anger.
“I know why Judas wept.” Those are the words that seem to boil out of Taylor’s mouth at the beginning of “Lech.” There’s no instrumentation backing him up, there’s nothing. This is between you and Taylor, and so help you he’s going to make sure you heard him.
“Lech” takes the punk feel of “Skeptic” and heaviness of “AOV,” and marries them into the sound of ten thousand soldiers with Doc Martens and six-foot mohawks curb stomping everything. There’s a few passages in the song that use effect-laden guitars that sound like broken machines and even some glitched audio that serves as a vehicle for the band to essentially make sure you’re feeling the violence. At this point, I’m noticing the main focus of Slipknot’s songwriting seems to be the flow of energy in a song- how can they make people feel something during this song, or beat the shit out of each other or even we make their pain evident.
That attention is obvious and well noted.
The bass is high up in the mix again, the creepy synths are back and there’s orchestral bells, timpanis and what sounds like a choir that got all of it’s treble and high mid frequencies stolen. The first half of the song is an ambient ballad and then about half way through the band takes the themes from the first half and transposes them onto guitars, drums, and everything else we’ll define here as the “traditional metal band.” It’s cool to hear the original themes go from these airy instruments onto heavily distorted guitars, not necessarily because it translates well, but because the contrast works amazingly to close out the song. Everything gets faster, heavier, darker and louder until there’s a brief band unison and then silence.
I’m glad this wasn’t a ballad. It would have worked just fine as a ballad, but this is Slipknot in 2014 on .5: The Gray Chapter. Forget the rules.
This is probably a good place to mention the differentiation between keyboard patches and samples used on the record. While a lot of them are indeed terror-inducing and generally have this feel to them that can be described accurately as “nausea-inducing,” each song that uses them in whatever massive instrumental arsenal being employed uses them differently. It’s as if the sounds are tailored to each song, which harkens back to the notion that this record was meticulously written.
All this talk of the “new Slipknot heaviness” goes right out the window on this one. If you told me this was a song from Iowa that was just a little too weird to be included on the record, I would believe you. The main riff is this chunky stop-and-go kind of thing that breaks out into an odd, somewhat off-kilter melody in the chorus. “Nomadic” is a really straight forward song that employs probably some of the strangest melodies the band has used up to now. It has this seasick, chromatic feeling to it with low-toned spoken word parts here and there and another ripping guitar solo.
It’s the chorus that gets me more than anything else in this song. That angular riff that Taylor’s singing over has this counterpoint quality going for it with the riff underneath and it’s just infectious. If you could hear the instrumental version of this song, there are points where most vocalists would be left scratching their heads wondering what would fit overtop. Then again, most vocalists aren’t Corey Taylor.
10) THE ONE THAT KILLS THE LEAST
“The One That Kills The Least” starts off with a riff that should signal something heavy, but instead the song stays mid-paced and gets pretty anthematic and slow touring the chorus. For some reason this song reminds me of “The Heretic Anthem” at a slower tempo, or basically any of the lighter songs from Vol. 3. The kicker to this song is that even though it’s slow, it has this anxious feeling like it wants to speed up at every turn, but just keeps backing down instead.
One of the cooler aspects of this song is the recurring guitar theme. There are a few variations of it presented throughout, both as low-down riffs and higher-up melodies or leads, but in the end it’s all still this descending pattern that seems to trip over itself initially and then tumble into place. Upon my first listen through the album I was floored at just how much fantastic guitar work there is throughout the album, with “The One That Kills The Least” being the song that finally made it click that both Mick Thomson and Jim Root are ridiculously capable at their instruments.
“Custer” starts off quickly with the band playing a hooky unison riff before breaking down into a bass drum, distorted bass and the occasional tom. Enter Corey Taylor, who starts off with a seemingly Lamb of God-influenced spoken word section before going flat out lunatic status. Right as the song explodes, there’s a quick change back to spoken word and then this four-on-the-floor chant that has everything come crashing down around you and ends on a scream that decays a little more every time it echoes off into the depths of the abyss.
This is the song that will have every single person at every single concert screaming at the top of their lungs for the chants before beating the everliving shit out of each other for the remainder of the song. This is the song you’re going to be blasting in your song when it comes on and scaring the piss out of the poor grandmother in the Buick next to you. There aren’t too many components to this one. It’s a pounding sound that takes on that electronica aesthetic of beating you submission.
12) BE PREPARED FOR HELL
Another interlude, but it’s interesting. There’s distorted speaking in the beginning that sounds like a distant voice in a tiled chamber while something is intermittently being crunched around you. That atmosphere gives way to a singular, theremin-sounding keyboard (which was there in the first place but quieter) with a much louder voice that seems to add pitches into its timbre as it continues speaking. Other than that, it’s just a break between songs.
13) THE NEGATIVE ONE
Another song we’re all familiar with. “The Negative One” is actually a really solid example of what this album is all about and showcases a lot of the sounds I’m referencing here. It has that classic Slipknot stomp to it, it has all the hallmark DJ sounds, screeches and scratches from their earlier days and it has the hellishly nimble drumming you’re going to hear non-stop throughout the record.
I know Slipknot said “The Negative One” wasn’t technically a single off the record, but it’s a great representation of the record. Not necessarily what the whole record sounds like considering how varied it is, but it gives a pretty good idea.
14) IF RAIN IS WHAT YOU WANT
“If Rain Is What You Want” is a slow burner and an excellent end to a record. It builds slowly upon the blocks of muddy guitars and vocals that seem to be sung through a blanket up to the full band mournfully culling the apocalypse one last time. Everything you have heard up to this point on the record in terms of instrumentation and mood is encompassed in this one. Whether that was purposely done or everything just happened to fit is a mystery, but much like the rest of the record everything seems to have been planned out in terms of its place in this sonic portrait.
The song isn’t trying to crush you to death anymore- the rest of the record has done that just fine. Instead, this is the song that plays over the montage as they find your body and eventually lower you into the ground as the frame widens and everything goes skyward. Even as the song reaches the apex of heaviness, there’s a very sorrowful quality to it that floats down into noise and one last verse sung before its lights out and once for all.
If it hasn’t been made abundantly clear by now, let me reiterate the irrefutable fact that .5: The Gray Chapter is an extremely coherent album that will please fans who have waited and probably garner multitudes of new ones. The sequencing of songs on the record ensures a smooth listen, the writing is impeccable, the lyrics range from straightforward and emotional to sinister and cryptic and the new members fit into the group perfectly and even shine through with their musical personalities.
To sum it all up, .5: The Gray Chapter is an album that retains the classic Slipknot sonic signature while adding new flourishes and finishes the stroke with a solid stab right through the paper.